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New lifeguard tower set to make a splash in Pacific Beach

For the next few months, joggers, cyclists, in-line skaters and others cruising the boardwalk in Pacific Beach will have to make a short detour as they approach the foot of Grand Avenue.

But for the most part, this minor inconvenience should seem a small price to pay. Behind a large fenced-off area, construction of a long-awaited new lifeguard tower and comfort station for South Pacific Beach is under way.

"The new Grand Avenue lifeguard tower and comfort station will allow lifeguards to better monitor our coastal waters while providing all beach visitors with more accessible safety and restroom facilities," said District 2 City Councilman Michael Zucchet. "It will be a great asset to Pacific Beach and set the standard for new public safety facilities."

The state-of-the-art facility will replace the old lifeguard tower built in the 1960s. Outdated and in poor structural condition, the old tower could no longer adequately serve the needs of lifeguards or the growing number of people they protect at one of San Diego's most popular beaches.

"Basically, the other tower was falling apart," said Brant Bass, a city of San Diego lifeguard lieutenant and public information officer. "We either had to do major repairs to it or build a new one, and we decided the best option was to build a new one. Beach attendance in the area has increased a lot in recent years, and we've had to increase staffing too."

The new lifeguard tower and comfort station in Pacific Beach replaces one that was built in the 1960s. The project was designed by Munroe and Orsa Architects.

On a recent weekend, some 40,000 people flocked to the 2-mile stretch of beach that spans from Crystal Pier to the north and Mission Beach to the south. And though the number of rescues per day varies depending on water conditions and other factors, it's not uncommon for lifeguards in the area to make about 30 rescues on a busy summer day.

The old tower will be razed, and once the new tower is finished -- around May of next year -- approximately 20 or 30 lifeguards will be based there. In the meantime, a temporary station has been set up at the foot of Thomas Avenue so that lifeguard services in the area won't be interrupted as construction continues.

Plans for the new lifeguard tower have been in the works for several years but have hit a few snags along the way. Early designs for the building were sent back to the drawing board by the Pacific Beach Community Planning Committee (PBCPC), which deemed the structure too large. Eventually, designers Munroe and Orsa Architects came up with a scaled-down, attractive and functional design that was favorably received by members of the community, lifeguards and the California Coastal Commission.

"It was kind of like trying to get 8 pounds of rock into a 5-pound sack," said Gary Orsa of Munroe and Orsa Architects of the challenges his firm faced in designing the new tower. "We kept redesigning it down to satisfy the community and the Coastal Commission while trying to keep it as functional as possible for the lifeguards. But I'm glad we did, because in the end we came up with a better project." According to Orsa, they designed the tower to be as narrow as possible to avoid obstructing the view corridor along Grand Avenue. And to meet the requirements of the Coastal Commission, it was necessary to keep the height of the building to 30 feet.

The top level of the new three-story tower will include a beach observation room and two watch rooms where lifeguards will monitor activity on the beach and in the ocean. The second level will feature gender-specific locker rooms with restrooms and showers, a dining room and offices for supervisors. On the ground floor, there will be a reception area, first aid station and a large garage that can house up to three patrol vehicles as well as watercraft and other rescue equipment.

To withstand the erosive effects of the ocean environment, the tower is being constructed from durable cast-and-place concrete. The building will also feature a curved roof designed to emulate the surf and blend in with its beach setting.

A small plaza decorated with artwork will separate the lifeguard tower from the comfort station. In addition to providing a place where lost children or parents looking for a lost child can get assistance, the comfort station will include ground-level public restrooms for men and women. Previously, public restrooms were located on the second floor of the old lifeguard tower, making them inaccessible to those with physical limitations. The new restroom facilities will also have a unisex family bathroom with one toilet stall and a diaper changing area for those with babies and young children.

The total cost of the new lifeguard tower and comfort station was $4,583,526. Funds for the project were generated by the Coastal Infrastructure Fund and through Fire Facilities Bond Financing.

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